King of the Alps

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King of the Alps live

Review

Last night was another little milestone for me: my first pub-based gig for two years. As you might imagine, it took an exceptional act to tempt me, and in this case it was King of the Alps whose great new single "Time Goes So Slow" I reviewed five days ago. It was also my first chance to see Paul Ingram & Simon Ward play live with new group member Sally Laws & the gig totally lived up to my high expectations.

Performing within the context of Rich Keogh's open mic at The Avenue in Leamington (currently named "Fifteen"), the band were on excellent form. They don't play live too often, but I suppose this rarity simply adds an extra veneer of value for aficionados.

Sally's addition to the lineup has one of those "this was meant to be" qualities. Paul tells me that in fact much of his writing has had a sense of creating opportunities for him to harmonise with a female voice & in the past both Izzie Derry & Ellie Gowers have added vocals on recordings (which tells you something about the esteem the band are held in), though obviously neither can easily perform live with the band (though check out my live review from July 2019 when Izzie was able to join them for "Helter Skelter"). Now Sally is able to perform those parts on a regular basis as well as adding her own original vocal take on current songs, not least "Time Goes So Slow". In fact, although we've been waiting for the new King of the Alps album ‘Heart of the Matter' for ages and despite that collection being considered near completion some time ago, Paul also advises that such is Sally's impact on the group that they are revisiting the recordings so as to maximise her contributions & enhance what they already had: so that will be an extra treat to look forwards to.

Unsurprisingly, the current single was in the set, and worked well, despite, as I mentioned a few days ago, their lineup being unable to reproduce all the layers of recorded instrumentation live especially keyboards and drums (it's ironic especially about the latter since Paul still sees himself as primarily a drummer). However I'm told that they have a plan to resolve this, the details of which will be resolved in due course. In the meantime, as I suspected, "Time Goes So Slow" works very well in stripped back form. Proud as the band are of their detailed recorded arrangements, I still think that the strength of the beautiful trademark melodies (and it's worth emphasising here the considerable contribution Simon's bass playing makes to the melodic complexity as well as that instrument's more conventional roles) come through even more strongly in the simpler live arrangements. I think each set offers different yet complementary perspectives on the song.

In a necessarily short set, as I say we got "Time Goes So Slow", plus the tracks "Beauty of the Rain" and "Helter Skelter" where we have already heard female vocals  on record but for me the revelation was "Wonderful Day": a single from June this year & destined for the new album. I gather the band were a little apprehensive of how this would work live (if you know the song, you'll appreciate how central the drum part is to the arrangement) but it was a triumph: Sally's vocals here took an already outstanding song & elevated it still further. I can well imagine that they will want very much to incorporate these into the album version of the song.

The band seem very excited about where they are going & so am I: there is a definite sense of kicking into still higher a gear & producing yet more exquisite music. Look out for the new album but also for some more live dates which they are currently working on for the last part of 2021.

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"Time Goes So Slow" by King of the Alps

Review

Regular readers will need no reminding of my admiration for that subtle and highly original band King of the Alps. I always enjoy their music and their new releases often take me by surprise both in their timing (they tend to emerge out of the blue) and their exquisite qualities. This is a band who manage to hone the most beautiful & heartfelt songs, utterly true to real feelings which nevertheless also manage to somehow combine accessibility with very quirky structures and approaches.

"Time Goes So Slow" adds to this flawless body of work & once again, twenty four hours ago I had neither heard it nor anticipated its arrival. Now it has found a place in my heart, hitting exactly the right spot when I needed it. (The release date was to coincide with International Men's Day 2021).

Like their previous release from June, "Wonderful Day", this is another peek into their forthcoming album "Heart of the Matter" (the follow up, at least in terms of albums, to "Matters of the Heart". Can you see what they've done there?)

Although the band's heart itself remains Paul Ingram & Simon Ward, as with so many of their previous releases, a part of the characteristic of King of the Alps is to keep the sound fresh and evolving is to bring onboard a succession of talented collaborators, each of whom brings something different & special to the feast. The latest of these  is vocalist Sally Laws & not only is this a chance to express how well her contributions have gone down live, but also to welcome her to the magazine as a member of the band.

Paul plays most of the instruments bar Simon's double bass & takes lead vocals, with Sally harmonising, but that tells only the surface story. King of the Alps have often gone for quite lush arrangements on which to set their lyrics (often in counterpoint) but even so, the layers of instrumentation on "Time Goes So Slow" is exceptional for them: Paul admits that the song was composed before they'd realised the implications of trying to play it live: I hope they manage it though, albeit in a necessarily more stripped down version, as it is strong enough I'm sure to make its emotional points in skeletal as well as fully fleshed form.

The obvious instrumental innovation you'll notice is Simon's switch to a double bass which certainly is right for the song & gives it that sombre jazz/folk feel which say John Parker often brings to his various projects (though he also brings much joy & uplift as well as appropriate to the song) and greatly enhances the melodic complexity we hear. Simon, as his Avidfan solo project demonstrates, has been exploring his jazz side a lot recently and it is a powerful addition to the King of the Alps palette. Here it broods impressively, adding its resonance to the profundity of the song. It's worth also stating in relation to this that I'm advised that "Time Goes So Slow" will be the most acoustic track on the new album.

Yet it's not all doom & gloom by any stretch of the imagination: I certainly wouldn't want to give you that impression. If I enjoy the emotional complexity of their songs, I would always also admit to often struggling to describe them adequately: their charm and attraction owes much to their elusiveness and of course this brings one back to needing to listen to them repeatedly. Which is no bad thing. Most King of the Alps songs contain elements of the downbeat & the optimistic and to be fair, as "matters of the heart" are what they aim to articulate, by exposing the duality involved, they create songs which surpass the emotional simplicity of much pop.

In this case, placing Paul's performance in the centre of the song, one can detect the breadth of that spectrum in various points along the track's length, with Simon's contributions possibly accentuating the melancholia while Sally balances that with her parts which stress the optimism more….

Paul tells me that in fact intention with the song was to move away from talking mostly about mattes of the heart into more global problems facing humanity, but nevertheless they have "crept in" anyway.

There is more than sufficient in "Time Goes So Slow" to be instantly recognisable as a King of the Alps song yet they've evolved what they do to enhance its effectiveness still further, including new details of how they sound, so it is clearly distinct from what you've heard before. It's another gem in the King's crown in fact.

Personally I'm hoping to catch them live with the new lineup before too long & awaiting "Heart of the Matter" intently.

As ever with the band, they've made an unusual & thought provoking video to accompany the single which is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXUcj7Z9o_c

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"Wonderful Day" by King of the Alps

Review

In one of those interesting serendipities which real life offers us occasionally, not twenty four hours after reviewing the debut solo single by King of the Alps bass player Simon Ward, ("Always Be Coventry") than I hear from his colleague Paul Ingram regarding their imminent new single (it's out on 21st June) called "Wonderful Day": and the extra good news is that you can download it free from their Bandcamp page.

Not only is this their first release since "Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" (I imagine you can work out when that came out), but it is the first track to be shared from their upcoming album, ('Heart of the Matter') their first since their debut ‘Matters of the Heart' some five years ago (though one must certainly not forget their highly regarded EPs ‘Beauty Scarred' ‘The Sun Will Rise Again' and ‘Longing Laughter' the last of which preceded ‘Matters of the Heart'). It's great to learn that despite recent events, they have kept on steadily writing & recording, though unfortunately not gigging.

The lyrical theme too is most welcome. Taking up where its immediate predecessor left off, the message once again is unambiguously optimistic. Bearing in mind that Paul's earlier songs for the band (especially on the debut album and ‘Beauty Scarred') were generally more complex in tone and emotion to the point where ambiguity might well be detected and certainly not necessarily optimistic, this is quite an evolution. It might be that he has got songs of that sort out of his system (the first album definitely had a theme based around experience and the title and this certainly spilled out of the confines of the collection into its successor). Now instead of a combination of wound licking and rueful reflection, we are getting material which suggests an enjoyment of life and an assumption that this state of affairs will endure: if one can discern a pattern out of only two tracks…. At any rate, if that is the aim, it is appreciated right now. I'm also guessing that the inversion of the words in the album titles may not be without significance too.

The tonal shift in the lyrics does not however mean that the music has veered into the middle of the road. Perhaps inspired by similar feelings as Neil Young who once said of that part of the musical highway "..travelling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride, but I saw more interesting people", King of the Alps have always seemed to eschew the comfort zone on their musical journey and their songs usually shift & evolve in unconventional and unexpected ways, unsettling the listener at times and thereby forcing them to really pay attention while at the same time mirroring the less comfortable aspects of the stories being told.

"Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" was probably the zenith of this approach and in reviewing it, the best description I could come up with was comparing it to experimental jazz. "Wonderful Day" is by no means that far out on the sonic spectrum (probably wisely) and its arrangement swings back towards the poppier end of their work generally with memorable guitar figures and Simon's trademark restless basslines propelling the tune into various directions throughout. The drum sound is actually to my ear quite dance orientated and despite the obvious differences in instrumentation etc, for some reason the track reminded me of some of New Order's lighter moments. However that said, the King of the Alps approach to arrangements is still there: and that's almost by itself why the song still has a slightly disconcerting edge to it: the necessary bite to elevate it to the levels we expect from the band. Part of this effect may simply be psychological on my part: the weight of their previous oeuvre compels me to expect shifts and surprises, but on close & repeated listening, the movements and skews are still there: often quite subtle, but the song is constantly morphing and I'm not sure even the parts of the structure which you might expect to repeat are precisely the same each time round. And that's without taking into account the usual unexpected changes and developments in the melody.

So there you have it: new King of the Alps: working at several levels: an attractive poppy summer song for the end (we hope) of restrictions (I can't help thinking that the selected release date is no coincidence) yet with plenty to keep the aficionados of the band licking their lips. I can't wait to see what directions the rest of the album will take. I'm expecting some of the unexpected.

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"Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" by King of the Alps

Review

It was only yesterday when Facebook reminded me that it was exactly twelve months since I had last see King of the Alps play live. Seems like a lifetime ago. In fact it is a little longer since I last reviewed them since "The Sun Will Rise Again" was released in November 2019, the same month their "Put Your Trust in Luck" was featured on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two'

Now Paul Ingram and Simon Ward are at last back with "Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" which they have generously put out (today)  as a free download available via this link:

https://kingofthealps.bandcamp.com/track/happy-christmas-all-will-be-fine

As a band known for their perfectionism, it's always worth the wait to see what they have come up with: second guessing King of the Alps is seldom worth the exercise. This time they have again ventured into new territory with their working method. Unusually, since previous songs were originally created by Paul, this one has its genesis in a double bass & drum track created by Simon & sent to Paul who made a loop and added electric guitar, drum & vocals in his home studio. Even more surprising is that Father Christmas is credited with sleigh bells: I suppose he was at a loose end in the run up to his busy period.

If however you are expecting something which will nestle snugly alongside all the old favourites on a Christmas compilation, I did warn you against second guessing them. I find it unlikely that "Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" will be featuring at any karaoke sessions & possibly Radio Two will pass on it. Although both are consummate experienced musicians, with this band they have no fear of experimenting with sound & this song is certainly experimental. So laid back in tempo & feel that it more resembles a post Christmas lunch lethargy than a party, the various elements drift in and out of the mix like some of the more outré examples of well, experimental jazz and minimalism is a key element. The one possible direct inspiration which I could detect is vaguely Eastern in origin with an Indian drone plus a sort of gamelan guitar figure. Overall, after the surprise of the initial play had worn off, I found on repeated plays the hypnotic beauty became much more apparent & just goes to show that one should listen to tracks more often to gain insights into them & that those requiring more effort to appreciate eventually bring the greater rewards.

The theme of the song is "an uplifting message of hope for restart to the future" which is a commendable sentiment, though many less brave vocalists than Paul probably would have opted for delivering it in a more upbeat style.

As I say, I applaud the message but also raise my hat to the way they have chosen to delivery it. There's nothing wrong with subverting expectations (I'd not respect artists who pandered to them) and honestly if King of the Alps went for an easy & populist strategy then I'd think less of them than I do.

"Happy Christmas, All Will Be Fine" will occupy a rather unique & distinctive position in my collection of Christmas records: something some of the other ones can only aspire to.

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'The Sun Will Rise Again' by King of the Alps

Review

Every so often, I enthuse in a review for "Hot Music Live" over the privileges of being able to do so: fairly obviously hearing wonderful & original music, often a little before it is released etc. To that I can add the odd "magic moment" such as this morning when anticipating being able to review the brand new EP by King of the Alps & greatly looking forward to doing so maybe in the next week or so, lo & behold Paul Ingram of that group turned up on my doorstep to hand deliver a copy & so you get to read my thoughts even earlier than planned.

It has been the busiest year ever for the band as this is their second EP of 2019. You may remember my reviewing ‘Beauty Scarred' back in April (and this in turn spawned the really well received singles "Beauty of the Rain" (featuring Ellie Gowers) and the Izzie Derry featuring "Helter Skelter").

The essence of this intriguing band remains thankfully the same: emotional & musical honesty being channelled through excellent musicianship & melodic approaches which subtly subvert themselves in unsettling ways to illustrate the very grown up stories of the trials of adult relationships (always assuming I understand the lyrics which can be elliptic).

 

However the sound does evolve interestingly through their records. Their debut album, ‘Matters of the Heart' (reviewed in March 2018 in this magazine) had a prominent accordion throughout. ‘Beauty Scarred' was built upon the core of the King of the Alps, namely Simon Ward on bass & Paul Ingram on all other instruments & vocals and as noted, graced by guest vocals from two of the area's (nation's?) finest vocalists.

On ‘The Sun Will Rise Again' EP, Paul & Simon are joined by lead guitarist Glyn Finch & this new element of the sound really works well & offers new perspectives on the songs. Whereas the accordion tended to counterpoint the angst of the songs in a very effective manner, the edgy guitar parts on the new record enhance the senses of anxiety (a bit like they do in the work of Talking Heads?) inherent in songs which I imagine are driven by the concerns of Paul (although the material is credited to all three players, previous songs were all his & I assume the words remain his: he also produced the EP by the way).

The counterpoint now is Simon's pulsated bass which offers any sense of calmness in the songs.

I don't think I could call King of the Alps records "concept albums" (they are for starters without pretentions) but they all do have thematic natures: certainly with the two preceding releases you can understand the titles after hearing the songs. After a few plays, I'm inching towards some grasp of why this EP has this name. Arranged as a suite, the first track "Hell of the North" is presented as our "Intro" and the final "Hell of a Ride" as the "Outro", bookending the title track & "Put your Trust in Luck".

 

The "Intro" is in fact an instrumental & unusually for the band, owing a strong debt to the dubwise style, though with the afore mentioned edgy guitars.

I actually was lucky enough to hear "Put your Trust in Luck" earlier in the week & it's already wormed its way into my mind already. Archetypical King of the Alps, it has the hypnotic melodicism one finds in their oeuvre yet is structured in a slightly weird way with sudden twists & surprises & then the gentle mood is abruptly switched by the entry of squalling "Abbey Road" style lead guitar.

The title song on first listen reminded me of the sort of recitative delivery which Kevin Rowland often used but quite soon any Dexy's comparisons disappear as the track turns into the most overtly "rock" track I've ever heard from the band: heavy with a strong dose of optimism.

The "Outro" is another groover with again a dub approach utilising Simon's skills to the fore and Glyn's cool guitar lacing through the other elements. This time however we can enjoy some lyrics, though not many: it's more of a mantra. A hypnotically beautiful one at that.

 In some ways King of the Alps are a connoisseur's band: relying on understatement, subtlety and you need to unpick the songs like a Fabergé egg to get the full benefit. However that said, they are masters of the melodic pop song too: the tracks can impact upon you at once & they are earworms for me....

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"Alternative Sounds: Volume Two"

News

Another very proud moment for the team at "Alternative Sounds" who  can now announce the tracklisting for Volume 2 of "Alternative Sounds": more of ...
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"Matters of the Heart" by King of the Alps

Review

What on earth do you expect from a debut album from a band comprising (a) a drummer from various acclaimed local bands who now plays guitar (b) the ...
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